Some series take big swings in Season 2, attempting to save themselves by luring more viewers with a dramatic change of pace. Others, usually shows with positive first-season feedback, hit the cruise control and keep riding high. “Casual,” Hulu’s flagship comedy from creator Zander Lehmann, falls more in the latter camp, but its reliance on connection — an unquestionable bond that’s been formed since Season 1 played out — could be seen as radical in the right light.
In this deeper connection with characters, “Casual” feels all the more real. Part of the enhanced relationship comes from the welcome progression of time. Rather than concerning itself with establishing why a brother, sister and her daughter would live together, or selling a unique premise about online dating, Season 2 can simply live with these characters. Alex (Tommy Dewey), Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) have strong enough personalities (with aptly laid back demeanors) to generate their own conflicts, and the broader arcs allow for that to happen naturally.
For one, Alex is on a mission. That makes it sound more serious than it really is, but the de facto family patriarch tries to make his distractions — “the universal human motivator,” as he so keenly puts it — more universally beneficial. Rather than meaningless sex or experimental vices, Alex pushes himself to find meaning in motions many people claim to, even if he can’t see how. His exploration of that “how” is genuine, if fittingly flawed, and Dewey’s portrayal remains effortlessly charming.
Watkins, who gets top billing for good reason, has a slightly less structured journey, allowing Valerie to dip her toe in a variety of distinct social venues. If it had to have a label, she’d be searching for friends. And while that allows for a few excellent guest stars (shout out to Katie Aselton for keeping her 2016 hot streak alive with “Togetherness” and now this), Valerie remains a character primarily trying to get to know herself; a predictable journey for a therapist, considering that’s why so many of them get into the field to begin with. In that bashful exterior mixed with a boastful interior, her character remains oh so fascinating to follow, no matter where she goes.
Laura, like her mother, seems intent on finding something safe to hold onto. Fed up with what’s expected after last year’s educational catastrophe, the youngest of the trio starts experimenting in both her guardians’ individual forays. She accompanies Alex on a few beneficial outings, maintaining her own opinions the entire time, and explores new, unexpected friendships alongside her mother. The two worlds separated by the adults and united in their shared child find a specific blend later in the season, as “Casual” leans a little too easily into some familiar elements. Still, the psychological through-lines hold up, allowing the series a bit of leeway while sifting through territory a bit beneath its overall ambition.
Yet Lehmann’s character specific writing paired with Jason Reitman’s intimate direction (for the first two episodes), further establish the deeper connection between program and audience. Communication has been an attribute since the start, and our amity with the citizens of this easy-living L.A. is further emphasized in the new year. Viewers may not want to wait week-to-week for new episodes, but they should otherwise be more than happy to fall in love with this suitor.